Lessons From The Snowden Affair

(1) Just as with Manning, it is beyond dispute that Snowden broke US law. As such, the US government is perfectly entitled to try to apprehend him (on its own soil), request his extradition, and prosecute him. This is quite perpendicular to whether Snowden’s leaks were morally “justified” or not. In some sense, they were. In my opinion, privacy as a “right” will go the way of the dodo whatever happens due to the very nature of modern technological progress. The best thing civil society can do in response is to make the lack of privacy symmetrical by likewise exposing the inner workings of powerful governments, the increasing numbers of private individuals connected to the government who enjoy its privileges but are not even nominally accountable like democratic governments, and corporations. In this sense, I agree with Assange’s philosophy. That said, it’s perfectly understandable that the government as an institution begs to differ and that it has the legal power – not to mention the approval of 54% of Americans – to prosecute Snowden. But!

(2) It preferably has to do so in a way that’s classy and follows the strictures of international law. As I pointed out in my blog post on DR and article for Voice of Russia, treason is not a crime like murder, rape, terrorism, or theft which are pretty much universally reviled (though even these categories have exceptions: Luis Posada Carriles – terrorism; Pavel Borodin – large-scale financial fraud). One country’s traitor is another country’s hero; one man’s turncoat is another man’s whistle-blower. So throwing hysterics about Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden isn’t so even so much blithely arrogant as it is stupid and cringe-worthy. Would a Russian Snowden, let’s call him Eddie Snegirev, be extradited back to Moscow should he turn up at JFK Airport? To even ask the question is answer it with a mocking, bemused grin on one’s face.

(3) It is true that the US, as a superpower, can afford to flout international law more than any other country. There is no point in non-Americans whining about it – that’s just the way of the jungle world that is international relations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that making explicit just to what extent the European countries are its stooges and vassals – as unambiguously revealed in the coordination between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy that created a wall of closed off airspace preventing the return of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his homeland on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden is on board – is perhaps not the best best thing you can do to draw goodwill to yourself. While European governments are by all indications quite happy to be vassals and puppets, many of their peasants don’t quite feel that way – and having the fact presented so blatantly to their faces is just going to create resentment. Why such a drastic step is necessary is beyond me. Why pursuing Snowden so vigorously, who has already leaked everything he has to leak, is in any way desirable beyond the fleeting thrill of flaunting imperial power must remain a mystery.

(4) While Snowden personally comes out as sincere and conscientious, he is profoundly lacking in political awareness. Unlike Snowden and Correa, the Russian authorities have apparently correctly guessed that the US wouldn’t balk at grounding aircraft if they suspected the fugitive was on board; hence, according to British lawyer (and occasional AKarlin contributor) Alexander Mercouris, why Correa ended backing off the asylum offer – getting to Latin America is simply surprisingly difficult. Same as regards Maduro. Russia all but offered Snowden asylum on a platter. Putin’s condition that he “stop hurting the US” was but a formality for Western consumption – considering that Snowden had already, presumably, divulged everything to Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald, and in any case it is standard practice for political asylum claimants to clear anything they wish to say with the authorities of the country offering them sanctuary so as to avoid hurting their interests.

But Snowden, perhaps driven by some mixture of personal principles as well as his perception of Russia as a non-democratic country, withdrew his application for asylum in Russia, and proceeded to send applications to dozens of other countries – including outright vassals like Poland, which wouldn’t bat an eyelid at extraditing him (the country’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is married to Anne Applebaum, a US neocon). That was completely unprofessional, a cheap PR stunt that doubled as a slap in the face to Russia and a display of legalistic ignorance (many countries require the political asylum claimant to be physically present on their territory). I concur with Mercouris’ assessment that Snowden appears to be getting appallingly low quality legal advice from Sarah Harrison/Wikileaks, at least if and insofar as getting real political asylum is his actual goal.

(5) Where can Snowden get asylum? Russia would be the obvious choice, but he seems to have ruled that out as mentioned above. He probably regards it as a non-democratic country, and took Putin’s stated conditions of asylum – no more leaks that embarrass the US – a bit too literally. I originally thought Germany might be feasible – tellingly, it *didn’t* close off its airspace to Morales’ airplane – but then they refused anyway. Venezuela, which is now touted as the likeliest destination, is a fair choice, but it will be difficult to get there, or to Latin America in general. Giving Snowden a military escort to get asylum in a foreign country would be impractical and unseemly in the extreme for Russia. And if European countries are prepared to overturn decades of international legal conventions to – for all means and purposes – hijack the plane of a national leader, even if of a weak and unimportant country, they would have no qualms whatsoever about doing the same to commercial airliners.

An additional problem is that Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Ecuador and Venezuela, are politically unstable – with the opposition consisting of hardcore Atlanticists. Should there be a change of power in those places – be it through the gun or the ballot box – the new authorities would send the likes of Snowden back to the US within the week and apologize for their shameful earlier lack of subservience to boot. Russia too has Atlanticist elements within their opposition, but they enjoy the support of only about 10% of the population – while almost half of Venezuelans voted for Capriles in their last two elections. Besides, as WaPo’s Max Fisher points out, Russia has never extradited any Western defectors – not even during the rule of Gorbachev or Yeltsin. Finally, while being confined to just Russia for decades or even the rest of one’s life is hardly the best of prospects, it surely beats Venezuela not to mention Bolivia (no disrespect to those two fine nations).

(6) There have been calls, including from The Guardian and his dad, for Snowden to show he’s truly a whistle-blower and not a traitor or spy by returning home. The choice is presumably his, of course, but if he heeds them, then more idiot he. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic or free or whatever than the US, that’s kind of beside the point; what concerns Edward Snowden specifically is whether Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic and free than a US supermax prison. And the answer to that is blindly obvious to all but the most committed freedumb ideologues. Even North Korea would win out on that one.

(7) The final thing I would say about this is episode is that it has really demonstrated the breath-taking scope of US power. Power that is not wisely wielded, perhaps, but power nonetheless. It is absolutely impossible to imagine so many European countries jumping through legalistic hoops, burning bridges with one of the world’s major economic and cultural regions, and drawing the massed ire of their own citizens at the request of any other country. And that’s assuming the US even made that request in the first place, i.e. could they have merely been trying to curry favor with their master?

At some level it has always been clear that the Euro-Atlantic West acts as a united bloc – see a map of (1) the recognition of Kosovo and (2) the non-recognition of Palestine – for visual proof of that. Or read the Wikileaks cables for an insight into how European politicians stumble all over themselves in their eagerness to tattle on everything in their country to American diplomats. Still, the grounding of Morales’ jet makes plain the sheer depth and scope of official European subservience better and more concretely than any other event or affair that one can recall. It also makes a mockery of their stated “concern” over NSA spying, deserving only ridicule and mocking dismissal. This is not a moral failing of the US, in fact it can only be commended and admired for bringing so many countries into complete political and cultural submission to it. It is only the lack of backbone and of the will to establish national sovereignty that is contemptible.

While it’s beyond dispute that the Europeans are complete doormats, it’s still worth noting that cautious, business-like China was eager to get rid of Snowden as quickly as feasibly possible – despite the major propaganda coup he delivered unbidden into their hands by demonstrating that computer hacking wasn’t just a one-way street between China and the US. Putin, too, is notable unenthusiastic. One can’t help but entertain dark speculations about the kind of dirt the NSA might have on him should he ever become too enthusiastic about that whole sovereign democracy thing. Counter-intuitively, it is Latin America – the land explicitly subjected to the Monroe Doctrine – that is mounting the most principled stand in support of government transparency and against Western exceptionalism and double standards.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Very interesting observations. Your remark about comparing the maps of Kosovo and Palestine recognitions is spot on.

    Your mention of the Monroe Doctrine makes me ponder something; US involvement in Latin America has mostly been an application of the “Big stick” mentality
    But with post war W. Europe US policy relied much more on the “carrot” than on the stick, ie the massive economic incentives offered by the US. Now that US economic clout is poised to be displaced by that of China (and already largely is in trade, with Europeans and others http://bigstory.ap.org/interactive/interactive-expansion-chinas-reach) how long will that carrot be attractive enough?

  2. georgesdelatour says

    Excellent article Anatoly.

    The current generation of US Wikileakers/traitors seem to live in a bubble, detached from reality. They’ve read their Noam Chomsky and decided the USA is some uniquely evil behemoth: the wickedest country on earth. That’s why they expose its wrongdoing/betray it. But they don’t believe the USA’s going to come after them, because, err… it’s the USA and, the USA is, err… nice. In a way, they leak/betray the USA because they DON’T think anyone from the CIA’s going to put polonium in their sushi.

    (I’ll leave you to tell us who you think really killed Alexander Litvinenko. My point is merely that most westerners take it as read that the Russian government murdered him in a particularly slow and painful way as punishment for his defection and treason; and that kind of death is what you should expect if you cross Russia. Personally I think Litvinenko’s ideas became increasingly unhinged. I loathe the Chechen separatists, so I’m not a fan. )

    • No, it’s a perfectly good point. And I fully agree with Mercouris (who made the argument initially) that chances are Snowden fully agrees with the conventional image of Russia. His father certain does (“You know, I would rather my son be a prisoner in the US than a free man in a country that did not have … the freedoms that are protected in the US”).

      The problem with the standard Litvinenko theory is that by 2006 he had already done all the leaking he was ever going to do (which was very limited since he was fairly low-ranking and not even inside intelligence proper). Not to mention that Britain stonewalled Russian state requests for evidence, and that Russia was not opposed to a public inquiry on the matter (which the UK canceled – according to Luke Harding, so as not to embarrass Russia and hurt trade relations. Considering the UK gives asylum to characters like Berezovsky and Borodin, that is a completely laughable theory). I do not, of course, “know” who did it – probably neither does anyone except the perpetrators. Yes, it’s possible that it was carried out by elements of the Russian deep state who wanted to spoil Russia’s relations with the West and force Putin into changing and Constitution and taking a third term. But there are also plenty of entirely feasible leads pointing to Berezovsky, that shady Italian Scaramella, or Chechens.

  3. Anatoly,

    I can only add to this, as I know you wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of having their names and handles mentioned, that this has demonstrated how great of a hivemind both ‘Left’, ‘Right’ and ‘classical liberal’ (ha!) GETS OFF ON how much Washington can publically bitch slap around even ‘powerful’ states within the EU like France. Not unlike Germans in the late 1930s cheering their boys marching into the Sudetenland and Austria unopposed.

    I agree Snowden has been naive in this affair, and so have been the Wikileakers. They and Greenwald seem actually surprised at the round the clock, PAID massive quantities of trolling, divide and conquer and pysop tactics they’ve been subjected to, as if the three letter agencies don’t have armies of trolls and contractors all doing their bidding in the infowar.

    If Snowden had a super duper plan all along of where he wished to end up (which I doubt) then I think he would find Abkhazia, as a statelet that Washington will never recognize, not a bad place to while away his years with some pretty Russian wife. Washington after all cannot demand extradition from a country it refuses to acknowledge as sovereign while Putin can honestly say Snowden is no longer on Russian soil and hence not his problem.

    But I will say one last bit — if the U.S. was so tyrannical as to simply start assassinating Assange, Greenwald et al for the whole world to see, either by drone or means too obvious not to involve the federal government, I could very well see two things

    1) An initial wave of the usual three letter agency worshippers getting off on it on Twitter, including some on Fox News and MSNBC alike. A further alienation of the Constitutionalist Left and Right from the increasingly fascist ‘mainstream’ that has finally let the mask come off. A brief rejoicing that all opposition has been crushed, before….

    2) Something akin to a ‘Dirty War’ emerging between the federal government and select militia elements inside the U.S. and perhaps even a few retaliatory hits against U.S. assets abroad, with ‘disappearances’ or Breitbarting/’Hastings cars exploding wrapped around trees’ becoming all too common over several years. While those inside the panopticon and those who work as contractors for it would like to think it’s invincible, as many Patriot sites have pointed out Christopher Dorner wreaked an enormous amount of havoc as one indiscriminate psychopath. Ditto for the D.C. snipers. Bob Owens and Western Rifle Shooters contributor and ex-Navy SEAL Matthew Bracken both explored what would happen in the event of the low level insurgency DHS has clearly been arming up to fight breaking out in the U.S.:




    My point to the 3 letter agency worshippers is: I would tread more cautiously, particularly if you live in a state surrounded by ‘bitter clingers’. Eventually all the past few years of agitprop about the ‘teabaggers’ being ‘insurrectionists’ DHS/SPLC/MSNBC have all pushed hard for years might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  4. Again, just to sum up the above:

    Unlimited surveillance creates the impression that ‘the feds already know everything about me and all the guns/ammo I’ve purchased, plus they’ve ‘Cyrpus’d a portion of my 401k/IRA, stolen my veterans pension, deemed me mentally unfit to own a weapon due to PTSD, put increasingly thuggish/black body armored up federalized armed cops on my street with DHS armored vehicles, shot the dogs and barged in violating people’s 3rd Amendment rights, pissed on the states rights under the 9th and 10th amendments etc etc.

    The hivemind of course either ignores this perfect storm or claims only authentically dangerous people will be targeted by our infinitely trustworthy NSA, and that the IRS harassment of ‘teabaggers’ was confined to that agency or to the White House itself, so how only paranoids could believe the above.

    But if the above facts are all true and growing worse by the day, how could this perfect storm NOT lead to at least sporadic incidents of violence in a nation with 150 million rifles over the next few years? It seems only God’s grace and the restraint of not wishing to give the most fascistic elements in D.C. their perfect pretext for martial law holds things back.

  5. willing to be part of any delegation to accompany Snowden to any country of his choice, under any circumstance.

    ([email protected]), my full contact data are available to any referencable source.


  6. Solid analysis.

    the grounding of Morales’ jet makes plain the sheer depth and scope of official European subservience better and more concretely than any other event or affair that one can recall. It also makes a mockery of their stated “concern” over NSA spying, deserving only ridicule and mocking dismissal

    Agreed. And in this case Germany’s ire about the spying seems to be on much firmer ground – they did not close their air-space, after all.

    it’s still worth noting that cautious, business-like China was eager to get rid of Snowden as quickly as feasibly possible

    What did they have to gain by keeping him? They got everything they wanted without paying any of the diplomatic consequences that would come with continued reticence. Theirs was the best of both worlds.

  7. This is a very good article indeed Anatoly.

    I am no authority on US constitutional law. However Snowden’s letter to the Nicaraguan government asking for asylum there has made clear that he believes that the surveillance programmes he exposed violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution. I don’t think many people would agree with him on the supposed violation of the Fifth Amendment but there is a strong current of legal opinion that says that on the Fourth Amendment he may be right.

    The government’s response is that its surveillance programmes do not violate the Fourth Amendment because permission has to be obtained from the FISA court. The problem is that starting from around 2008 the FISA court seems to have started approving not just requests for surveillance on specific groups or individuals (as required by the Fourth Amendment) but requests for blanket surveillance of ever larger classes of persons extending practically to the whole US population. There is some argument about the nature of some of this surveillance and whether or not the way it is done actually violates the Fourth Amendment about which I do not have the expert knowledge to given a definite view but I have to say that these arguments look to me dubious and at times even like sophistry.

    Anyway since the FISA court conducts its proceedings in secret and since by definition its proceedings are not adversarial (there is no one to argue against any request from the government) there is no losing party that can appeal its decisions allowing those decisions to go unchecked. I have seen the FISA court described as a “secret alternative Supreme Court” and whilst that is an exaggeration it is not a total misdescription.

    In summary, there is genuine concern as to the legality of some of the things that Snowden has exposed and about some of the decisions the FISA court has been taking, which the government’s response to Snowden’s exposures has not resolved.

    A whistleblower who exposes illegal activity even if he breaks the law can rely in most developed jurisdictions on the so called Public Interest defence ie. that his law breaking should be excused because it is done in the public interest. The Public Interest defence is apparently not as well developed in the US as it is in Europe, However I understand that if Snowden were being prosecuted for say theft he would be able to cite the Public Interest defence. Obviously in any prosecution where Snowden was allowed to argue a Public Interest defence the legality of the surveillance programmes he exposed would be the central issue in the case, which is presumably something he would welcome and even wants.

    The concern is that the government is prosecuting Snowden under provisions that originate in the 1917 Espionage Act and is engaging in a sustained public campaign to brand him a “traitor” who has injured US national security because the Public Interest defence is not available in cases that involve national security. Since Snowden would not be able to raise the Public Interest defence in a prosecution under the Espionage Act the legality of the surveillance programmes he has exposed would not be considered at his trial despite the widespread concerns about this. The whole issue would be kicked as we say in England into the long grass.

    I should make it clear that on my reading of the Espionage Act there is no doubt that Snowden’s actions do fall under its provisions. It is another matter whether it is just or right to prosecute him as a whistleblower under the provisions of an Act that was passed in wartime to deal with spies. Snowden claims he is not a spy but a whistleblower who acted to disclose to the American people who the Constitution says are the sovereign power of the US (“We the People etc”) actions that he says violate the Constitution. As a matter of simple common sense I do not understand how someone can be called a “traitor” if he has acted to inform the sovereign people of the violation of their rights or how it harms national security to expose violations of the Constitution.

    Legally the way to argue this and to challenge the propriety of Snowden’s prosecution under the Espionage Act would be to say that it violates the First Amendment to the Constitution. The trouble is that US courts have been wrestling with the question of whether prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act violates the First Amendment ever since the Pentagon Papers case in 1971 and have been unable to come to a clear or final view. It would be a threadbare defence for Snowden to rely on and since in the absence of a Public Interest defence it is the only defence he has left if it is rejected (as is surely likely) his conviction would be a foregone conclusion and his trial would be a formality.

    Prosecuting someone on the basis of a provision that is intended to deny him of a defence he would otherwise be entitled to is a dubious proposition at best. Given that it is arguably being done in this case to suppress discussion of possibly unconstitutional activity it explains why many people including Amnesty International, I believe the American Civil Liberties Union and ultimately myself consider that Snowden falls within the definition of someone who has a well founded fear of persecution for his political beliefs or actions were he to return or be returned to the US. On the strength of that I would say and Amnesty International says that he is a political refugee. As Putin’s statements make clear the Russian authorities take the same view. It is on that basis that Snowden has claimed asylum in various countries and why Russia has refused to accede to US demands to hand him over.

    For the rest you have summarised the points I have made very well. I would just add a few points:

    1. In any discussion of Russia’s actions it is important to understand that Russia has offered Snowden asylum on what are absolutely standard terms. It is Snowden who for his own reasons is refusing this offer of asylum and who is seeking asylum elsewhere. As you know I think he is wrong to do so. I should say that I am equally sure that if Snowden had applied to China for asylum they would have granted it. Comments made about him in the People’s Daily have all but said as much. The problem is not that Russia and China do not want to help Snowden. The problem is is that he does not want their help or at least only wants it on his own impossible terms.

    2. I have no information about this but I strongly suspect that the reason the European countries agreed to enforce the air blockade on Snowden is because of US threats to withdraw intelligence cooperation if they didn’t. All European states depend to a greater or lesser extent on intelligence sharing with the US whose intelligence gathering operation is on an entirely different scale to their own. The exception is Britain whose intelligence gathering operation Snowden has revealed that it has to all intents and purposes fused with that of the US.

    3. I don’t think Russia can be accused of complicity or capitulation before the US air blockade. On the basis of comments Correa and other Ecuadorian officials have made there is no doubt it is the Russians who have prevented Snowden from boarding the planes he has wanted to take to South America. Had he boarded any of those planes he would never have got to South America. The planes would have been intercepted and he would have been arrested and would be in the US by now. Russia has defeated US attempts to capture Snowden and so far from helping the US’s attempts to capture Snowden it is obstructing them.

    4. I think the US has mishandled this affair. As Susan Rice for once has correctly said, the amount of damage Snowden’s revelations had done to the US’s relations with the outside world was limited. A number of countries may put on a show of indignation but as Putin said in his interview with RT in reality they all surely knew or suspected what was going on already. If the US had allowed Snowden to go to South America the strong probability is that the fuss about the surveillance programmes he has exposed would have died down even in the US and that he would in time have been captured by the US anyway whenever whatever South American government was sheltering him fell as it surely eventually would. Forcing Snowden to stay in Moscow keeps him in the one place (other than China, Iran or North Korea) where he is beyond the US’s reach. Forcing the US’s European allies to violate international law in the way that happened over Morales’s aircraft will have caused considerable anger and embarrassment even if this is only being expressed behind the scenes. It only gives further publicity to Snowden’s plight and to his allegations and makes the US look a bully.

    5. I think the best outcome is for the US government to drop the charges under the Espionage Act and to allow Snowden to return home so that he can be tried for theft and cite the Public Interest defence as his defence. If the surveillance programmes are constitutional as the government says then it has nothing to fear from this course. If the surveillance programmes are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment then the sooner this is established the better. To argue otherwise is to say that the US Constitution is no longer in effect and I cannot believe anybody in the US is prepared to say that.

    6. Since I don’t think the US government has any intention of dropping the charges under the Espionage Act I think Snowden should stay where he is and accept the Russian offer of asylum which has been made to him. Given his absence of options I don’t think anyone would criticise him for doing so other than those who are criticising him and calling him a traitor already or those who for whatever reasons don’t really have his true interests at heart.

    • Relevancy is lost here, yours practicality should have markers of contextual overview to make it significant. Systemic flaws of the system are taken into consideration to understand and define an issue of principle in your comment, that might be the wrong way around. Not Snowden is at cause, but world ethics. Law is to be distanced, it does not generally, certainly not here, offer structure to morality and ethical concern. The overt subscription of Putin, to asylum conditionally, is in itself politicising of the worst kind. The man can stay, the principles are out, then whether this is the overt excuse, it still is to be translated into the covert message of ‘you can have but one enemy here, the imperial US, your friends, your loyalty is now to belong to Russia, and we will make sure the choice is not yours’. It is not a Potential but a Power game played. It includes a strong hierarchical sense to the contrary of systemic ethics on top, worldwide, highly effecient in it’s application. No single man can cope, no rickety democracy can cope, the Snowden case is -the- example of a global, timeless issue. m.

      • Dear m,

        I think this is overcomplicated.

        Russia has accepted Snowden as a political refugee. Putin on two occasions has said as much. As I think we both agree Russia has good grounds to do so. Russia has refused to hand Snowden over to the US, which is the country from whose persecution Snowden says he is fleeing. That is consistent with Russia’s legal obligation to someone it has recognised as a political refugee. Russia has taken steps to protect Snowden by preventing him from boarding flights that would have been intercepted by the US. That is also consistent with Russia’s legal duty to protect someone it has recognised as a political refugee. Snowden applied for political asylum to Russia. Russia in returned offered Snowden asylum on the standard condition that he not abuse his asylum in a way that might complicate further his host country’s (Russia’s) already difficult relationship with the US.

        Let me stress that the latter is a totally standard condition to asylum grants. It does not mean that Snowden would be silenced. He would still be in a position to explain the reasons for his actions. What he would not be able to do save with the prior agreement of the Russian authorities is disclose further classified information about US intelligence operations. Greenwald has all but said that Snowden has already provided all the information he wanted to disclose so this should not be a problem for him. In fact far from being a problem for Snowden it arguably helps Snowden since it serves to emphasise a point Snowden himself is anxious to make, which is that he is not working for foreign governments like Russia’s or China’s in order to harm the US.

        Unwisely in my opinion, possibly because he is receiving poor legal advice (I understand the person from Wikileaks who is with him is not a lawyer and does not have professional legal training) Snowden chose to reject Russia’s asylum offer by withdrawing his asylum application.

        On one point I do agree with you and that is that the US has behaved in an inappropriate and at times grossly illegal way. Anatoly has discussed this fully in his article but briefly, the US has brought a prosecution against Snowden that is obviously intended to deny Snowden what would otherwise be his right, which is to make a Public Interest defence. The best explanation for that decision is that the US wants to curtail discussion of whether the surveillance programmes Snowden has disclosed violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. It has conducted a publicity campaign against Snowden branding him a traitor to his country and someone who has damaged US national security, which clearly violates the legal presumption of innocence, which on the question of Snowden’s alleged treason is both untrue and actually defamatory and which in relation to the alleged damage to US national security is debatable and controversial and is anyway a matter that should be decided by the Court that eventually tries Snowden if he is ever tried. What such comments do is confirm something that Snowden has been saying in his asylum claims, which is that he is unlikely to get a fair trial if he returns or is sent to the US.

        The US has threatened countries that have sought to grant Snowden asylum, openly interfering with the asylum process. It has arranged for its allies to intercept, bring down and search the private aircraft of a head of state travelling from an international energy conference in gross violation of the internationally recognised principle of absolute immunity conferred on travelling heads of state. To understand the enormity of that action try to imagine the consequences if some country, say Russia or China, sought to ground and search Air Force One with the President on board in order to capture a Russian or Chinese dissident who happened to be travelling with the President.

        All this whilst the US government is headed by someone who was previously a professor of constitutional law. The fact that the US whilst doing all these things has carried on preaching to the governments of Russia and China and to the authorities in Hong Kong about their need to observe “the rule of law” by handing over Snowden shows just how detached from reality some people in the US government have become.

        By contrast Russia has gone by the book throughout this whole affair.

        • Thanks for the worthy reply. I hope y. read my upcoming paper on what is called the bend(in logic), the confinement within context of a principled affair. There are indeed many facets to the devolvement of the Snowden situation.

          • Dear m,

            You are very welcome and I would be most interested to read your paper. Could you tell me where to find it?

            The latest news about Snowden is that he has a called a meeting with human rights activists at Sheremetievo airport where he has apparently said that he has decided to remain in Russia (ie. accept Russia’s asylum offer) since the US has made it impossible for him to go to South America. He has apparently also said that he still intends to go to South America when he can.

            If this is true then I think Snowden has made the correct decision and by first informing human rights activists (from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) he has announced it in the correct way. As I said before I don’t think any unbiased person would criticise him for the decision he has made.

            The one observation I would make is that Snowden is perhaps being a little premature in assuming that the Russian offer of asylum is still there. As of this moment the only offer of asylum Russia has had is the one he withdrew. He presumably will have to make a new application for asylum and it is not a foregone conclusion that it will be granted. Bear in mind that grants of asylum are supposed to be a privilege within the discretion of the country that grants them. It is a very odd way to make an asylum request to a country whose offer of asylum one has previously turned down to say that one is only making it because one cannot asylum somewhere else. Some countries (Britain for example) might treat such an approach as discourteous and even see it as grounds to refuse asylum. However I sincerely hope and believe that Russia is open minded enough to understand Snowden’s problems and the reasons for his behaviour and to overlook the rather odd way he has gone about things.

    • Dear Alex,

      There is a section in the Fifth Amendment in the US Constitution that relates to record-keeping and this section may be the one violated by the NSA surveillance. If surveillance systems are regarded as record-keeping systems, then they fall under the scope of the Fifth; the issue involved is self-incrimination which might arise when people post information about themselves on social networks which government authorities might later use as the basis to press charges against them.

    • I think you make a big mistake with respect to outside relations. Brazil (and the rest of SA) will use this for the repatriation of gmail and facebook like services. They couldn’t do this before because they didn’t officially know that the NSA was reading every word on those services.

  8. Dear Alex,

    I would say that this news has completely and utterly vindicated your analysis of the situation. Snowden met with the lawyers and HR’ists, and they must have surely explained him his situation much as you would have done so. Namely, that getting to Latin America is physically unrealistic, and that Putin’s conditions of asylum are entirely reasonable and standard.

    Two more things I would add. First, one might construe Snowden’s emphasis that asylum from Russia will be “temporary” as another slight, that is, an attempt to balance between the two stools that are his (dwindling) numbers of supporters in the West, many of whom consider him a coward or a traitor for not facing the charges against him in an “open” court (as if that is a realistic prospect) and a desire not to alienate Russia so much that it wouldn’t give him asylum after all.

    Still, it has to be said that Russian officialdom doesn’t relish Snowden’s presence much either. According to one prominent journalist at RT, “The powers-that-be do NOT want Snowden to be at the center of the country’s foreign policy with the west” – an impression largely based on his conversations with gov’t officials on the matter. In a way such attitudes are as illogical as Snowden’s. More so, even. In this one case, Russia is clearly, unambiguously in the right, in a way that is very rarely replicated in any other area. So whom DO they want to be at the center of Russia’s relations with the West (at least to the extent that individual causes celebres can be said to occupy “central” roles)? Do they want it to remain Magnitsky? Or are they eager to move on to Navalny? Are they PR masochists?

    • Dear Anatoly,

      Thank you for your very kind words though I feel the facts spoke for themselves.

      As to your point about some people within Russian officialdom being PR masochists I cannot agree more. Here we have a situation in which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are looking to Russia on a human rights question against the US on the subject of the treatment by the US of an internationally recognised human rights dissident who is fleeing the US and is seeking Russia’s protection They have done so moreover after being summoned to a meeting with McFaul the US ambassador in Moscow who told them to pass on a message to Snowden that he is not a whistleblower. In reality that message was intended for the human rights agency and not for Snowden. Bear in mind the degree to which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have over the last few years become subordinate to US foreign policy and have become dependent on US funding. The response of the human rights agencies was to ignore McFaul’s message and to back Snowden’s asylum bid to Russia. In other words the piper chose for the first time to refuse to play the payer’s tune. Tell me when has such a thing ever happened and when human rights agencies have looked to Russia instead of the US? Yet instead of being delighted some people in Russia seem to be sorry. Who are these people? I sometimes get the impression that the so called foreign policy “realists” in Russia are an even greater danger to Russia than the romantics.

      PS: You are of course absolutely right that Snowden’s comment about wanting asylum in Russia only temporarily so that he can fly to South America later is actually discourteous to Russia though I am sure he does not mean it that way. Some countries (including Britain) would treat such a comment as grounds to refuse a request for asylum. I think that Russia is big minded enough to understand Snowden’s feelings and will overlook this comment.

      Incidentally there is a brief video circulating of Snowden’s meeting with the human rights activists in which he came across to me as humorous and charming.

      • I know. This is getting so bizarre, right? After revealing Snowden’s (private) email address on her Facebook, Tatyana Lokshina (HRW Moscow) ended up going to the meeting after all and apparently ended up supporting Snowden. Maybe basically trying to dictate to her what her stance should be via MacFaul was so crude and overbearing that she “revolted” so to speak?

        Anyway, back to Russian officialdom. On a certain Russia list (I think you’re on it as well), here is what one Russian vice-chairman of an NGO formed around the idea of improving US-Russia relations had to say: “I think we need to support everything that improves RF-USA relations and to oppose everything that harms it… so let him go… back to Hong Kong, to USA but far away from Russia. Our relations shall not be the hostage of Snowden or other US or Russia extravagant persons.” The mind boggles.

        • Dear Anatoly,

          Viz the comment from the head of the NGO I know exactly who you mean.

          This is not realism. It is straightforward appeasement. It’s exactly the mentality that would have surrendered the Kuriles to Japan and the South Ossetians to Saakashvili and which brought Russia in the 1990s to the brink of disaster

          As for Lokshina, here is her account of her meeting with McFaul that she has given to VoR. Notice that she can’t resist having a dig at Putin. She is utterly wrong by the way when she says that Putin has no role in deciding asylum grants. As granting asylum is an issue of state sovereignty the head of state in a republican system such as Russia’s most definitely is involved in deciding asylum claims. In fact he is the person who makes the final decision as Correa did in Assange’s case. Lastly in any conventional asylum claim Lokshina would be doing Snowden no favours by harping on the fact that he only wants asylum in Russia as a passport to get out of Russia and to go to South America. As we have discussed in some jurisdictions such as Britain’s comments like that would be grounds to refuse a request for asylum.


          Both Lavrov and the Russian Migration Service have issued statements that Snowden has not yet submitted his asylum application to the Russian Migration Service, which is the agency with appropriate jurisdiction to handle asylum claims. These comments should be seen for what they are – advice to Snowden on how to make his asylum claim correctly. This is essential in Snowden’s own interests since neither he nor Russia can afford for there to be any doubt as to the legality of any grant of asylum by Russia to Snowden. It is essential if the grant of asylum is to be defended through international law that the procedure is followed correctly and that everything is done by the book. Snowden has good grounds for seeking asylum and it would be both a disaster and completely stupid if any grant to him of asylum could be questioned because of a silly and unnecessary decision to cut procedural corners. This is by the way the only asylum claim I have ever heard of in which the Foreign Minister of the country applied to has publicly advised the asylum seeker about the correct procedure to make his asylum claim. It is a measure of the help Russia is implicitly giving Snowden despite the odd way he is going about his claim.

          Lastly here is evidence of what I am sure both of us always suspected, that Snowden and Greenwald will soon discover as Julian Assange and Wikileaks to their cost previously did, that the Guardian is a false friend. Here is the first utterly predictable article (to you and me) in the Guardian by Peter Beaumont denouncing Snowden for thanking Russia for offering him asylum.


          As if Snowden had any choice in the matter and as if Politkovskaya etc had anything to do with Snowden and as if it were in Snowden’s interests to insult the only government which is both able and willing to protect him.